The Española City Council refused to promote Deputy Police Chief Roger Jimenez as the leader of the city government’s Department of Public Safety.
Forty-four days after Louis Carlos resigned from the position, Mayor Javier Sanchez on Tuesday formally recommended Jimenez to replace him.
But the City Council voted 5-3 against ratifying Sanchez’s appointment of Jimenez, who immediately gathered his things and left city hall, followed by a group of other police officers.
Jeremy Apodaca, president of the union that represents the officers, said he hopes Jimenez continues to work for the Department as deputy chief.
“But if he doesn’t, that’s understandable too, after what he just had to endure,” Apodaca said.
He was referring to 65 minutes of tense questioning of Jimenez by city councilors about his nine months as a member of the Department so far, his background and why he should be promoted.
Councilor Peggy Martinez questioned Jimenez about text messages between Jimenez, Carlos and Lt. Richard Trujillo, which included derogatory comments about a woman’s appearance. Other messages included jokes about the paternity of another Department officer’s child, and also official Department business.
When Councilor Justin Salazar-Torrez asked Jimenez to describe his greatest failure, he said after a long pause, “the last incident that I was involved with here was probably pretty close to my biggest failure,” referring to the text messages.
“I had an opportunity to stop something and speak up, and I did not do that,” he said.
Jimenez did not challenge Martinez when she said he was put on probationary status by the Department because of the incident. He said he has a letter of reprimand in his personnel file because of it.
“We’re being asked to promote somebody that has a current letter of reprimand in their file,” Martinez said, before looking at Jimenez. “Would you promote somebody in your Department that you had just disciplined?”
“It would all depend on, throughout the investigation, whether that officer took responsibility for their actions,” Jimenez said.
Martinez also asked Jimenez about his handling of a crash between two of his officers that was investigated by a third officer, in violation of Department directives. Accidents involving police vehicles must be documented by an outside agency, however, Jimenez turned away Sheriff’s deputies and New Mexico State Police officers from the scene.
“How can you ask constituents to follow laws and rules when we’re not following them ourselves?” Martinez said.
She said Jimenez lied to her and a Rio Grande SUN reporter about whether the Department had working radar guns.
“Lying is a strong word,” Jimenez said. “I made a mistake. That’s all it was. I was told we didn’t have any radars and that’s why we were purchasing some.”
Jimenez said he gathered letters of recommendations from about 10 different police agencies in the area, including the FBI, New Mexico State Police and the Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Office.
Upon hearing this, Sheriff James Lujan, sitting in the audience, furrowed his brow and shook his head.
Earlier in the public comment period of the meeting, before councilors went into executive session, Lujan had opposed Jimenez’s promotion.
“I’ve already made several phone calls and my concerns as a constituent, also as a law enforcement officer um, in opposition to the appointment,” Lujan said. “I am opposed to the appointment that looks like it’s gonna be for the deputy chief. The reason for it is (his) experience and I believe the Council and the mayor should open it up for applicants to see if we can get the best qualified person to work with the Police Department and the Sheriff’s Department, together.”
The public questioning came after councilors, the mayor and City Attorney A.J. Salazar deliberated Jimenez’s appointment for 30 minutes behind closed doors in executive session. It was the second time the group had met privately about the appointment, according to the City Council's published agendas.
Apodaca said he supported Jimenez’s promotion, and that Jimenez was “the glue holding this Department together.” He said the union has never taken a formal vote on whether to support Jimenez but that a majority of the officers support him “by word of mouth.”
Councilor Denise Benavidez said she had asked Jimenez whether he would continue to work for the Department if he was not promoted.
“Your answer was no,” Benavidez said. “Have you changed your mind?”
“There are a lot of variables,” Jimenez said with a laugh. “To be honest, I cannot foresee right now.”
Interim chief David Osuna recommended Jimenez’s promotion at the April 23 City Council meeting when he told councilors to hire from within and said he had been teaching Jimenez to make what he called chief’s decisions.
At the time, Sanchez said he valued Osuna’s recommendation.
“I think he has the capacity for growth and change to provide a solid foundation for a strong police department that the City of Española deserves,” Sanchez said Tuesday before the City Council meeting. “Our priority is safety and unity. My hope is that we can get there together.”
Councilors Salazar-Torrez, Robert Seeds and John Ricci made up the minority who voted in favor of Jimenez's appointment.
Enjoy reading the SUN online? Then you'll love the print version. This is just one of the 26 local news, opinion, arts and sports stories published in the May 16, 2019 edition. To see the rest, buy a copy from one of our vendors on the street or at one of these locations.